The Authentication/Classification Process

The assessment of the value of cattle, sheep and pigs sold deadweight is based on the key characteristics of the resulting carcase that are seen as important to the buyer, These are principally the breed, sex, age and weight together with the assessment of the level of fatness and the conformation of a carcase. Taken together, these key factors provide clear indications as regards the meat yield and muscle shape that are important determinants of carcase quality (see note on meat yield related to classification). As such they form the basis for the classification schemes for beef, sheep and pigs and as a result are also widely used as the basis of payment to the vendors of livestock.

The core role of MLCSL staff within those abattoirs that purchase livestock on a deadweight basis is to provide an independent , unbiased and impartial service to the vendor and buyer to identify these factors through the classification of livestock, using highly trained staff.

This service is provided by MLCSL to those abattoirs that request it on a fully commercial basis and is carried out in full compliance with EU regulations that require all abattoirs above a certain size to classify all cattle and clean pigs and young boars to EU standards. A similar classification service for sheep is provided based on that developed by MLC ( the previous levy board for cattle, sheep and pigs prior to the formation of AHDB); It is crucial to the vendor and the buyer that these characteristics are measured in an unbiased and impartial way. This is the basis of the independent service that MLCSL provides.

Details of the classification services provided by MLCSL are set out in three booklets below:

The actual classification of carcases is just one facet of the overall service that MLCSL provide in the plants in which they operate, in which highly trained MLCSL staff:

  • Check that the weighing equipment in the plant is correctly adjusted, before commencement of activity
  • Check that each carcase is identified correctly so that the measured/assessed characteristics are correctly accredited to each carcase
  • Authenticate the weight of each carcase
  • Check that the dressing specification for each carcase complies with the plants stated policy
  • Classify the carcase is in compliance with the EU schemes for cattle, pigs and the MLC scheme for sheep
  • Assess the carcase for any issues that need to be brought to the attentio of the official veterinary or plant staff
  • Attach label to the carcase containing the details of the measured/assessed carcase characteristics
  • Verified documentation for the supplier

While the service is provided at the request of the meat company, in most cases the charge for the classification service provided by MLCSL is passed back to the farmer through deductions on the final return

Overall percentage yield of saleable meat across the classification grid for an average beef side weight of 144.6kg

Source: Table 2 from the AHDB Beef & Lamb report

A similar system developed by MLC can be used for sheep and the assessment, take together with weight, sex and age also provides a good statistical relationship to meat yield

The genetics of pigs means that because of the uniformity of the depth of back fat, one or more probes, linked to weight, sex and age characteristics of the carcase can be used as good statistical indicators of the meat yield of a pig carcase. As such this forms the basis of the EU classification schemes for pigs ( as set out in the MLCSL booklet on Pig Carcase Classification). Other method so f assessing the depth of backfat and muscle shape , such as ultra sound scanning can also be used as predictors of meat yield.

Cattle and sheep do not have the same uniformity in back fat depth as pigs. This is due to factors as diverse as breed, sex, weight , age, feeding regime, and consequently fat cover can vary greatly, as can the shape of the carcase. As a result to assess such carcases using a simple probe is not satisfactory.

The classification of cattle by MLCSL is therefore carried out following the EU approved system through a visual assessment of the shape of the carcase, its conformation, and the fatness of the carcase in accordance with the EUROP grid. These key components taken together with weight, sex and age are also good statistical indicators of the meat yield from the carcase, as indicated in the following table.

The use of equipment that provides a visual image assessment (VIA) of a carcase can also be used as a predictor of meat yield. All abattoirs that have installed this equipment are also required under the EU carcase classification regulations to use these results vice versa, as predictors of the classification of the carcase in terms of the EU grid for conformation and fatness, which have to be reported.

These VIA assessments are subject to periodic checks through using the visual assessment method subject to a 60% tolerance on the 15 point EU scale (details 15 point EU scale are set out in the MLCSL booklet on Beef Carcase Classification)